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Back at Work - Recovering from Back Pain

Back Pain Basics | Preventing Back Pain | Recovering from Back Pain | Resources | Multimedia | Software Tools | Related Sites

You play the most important role in your recovery

  • How you handle your back pain in the early phase will have an impact on how long the pain may continue.
  • Resting for many days with back pain is no longer advised. The scientific evidence shows that resting for more than a day or two can actually prolong the problem.
  • Remember that being active while you are still having pain will not harm your back or make the overall condition worse.
  • If you experience pain while resuming activity, it may be helpful to modify your duties, or take some pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Heat or cold applied to the painful area can also provide relief.

Tips for coping with back pain

The sooner you get back to normal activity the better.

  • Even when your back is painful, you can remain active.
  • Stops the working parts from seizing up.
  • Remember that the longer you put it off, the harder it will be to get back in the swing of things.
  • Reduce your stress: anxiety and stress can increase muscle tension and cause spasms and increase your pain.
  • Try and modify any activities that significantly stress your back.
  • Vary your activities, and do not stay in one position for a long period of time.
  • Use over-the-counter medication at the beginning of your back pain.
  • Do not wait for the pain to disappear to move, this will only worsen the problem and prolong your recovery.

Controlling pain

If you get a severe attack of back pain these treatments may help ease the pain, but will probably not erase it altogether.

  • Pain killers: acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help in the first stages.
  • Heat and cold: in the short term try a cold pack in the sore area for 5 to 10 minutes. Some people find heat relaxes muscle tension. Try a hot bath, shower, or hot water bottle.
  • Massage: gentle massage treatments can ease the pain and relax the muscles.
  • Manipulation: qualified chiropractors, and physiotherapists can manipulate your back and help with the pain.

You should feel the positive effects of these treatments immediately - they are usually not a good idea for the long-term.

When to see your doctor:
In most cases, you can deal with back pain yourself. Doctors can help reassure you that you don't have a serious medical condition, and suggest ways to deal with your pain. However, if you've suffered a back injury related to your work, you must see your doctor as soon as possible to be eligible for WorkSafeBC benefits.

If you have severe pain which gets worse, instead of better, you should see your doctor. Watch for these symptoms, which are rare but serious:

  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Numbness in your back passage or genitals
  • Unsteadiness
  • Numbness, weakness, or the feeling of pins and needles in both legs.

Keeping active

The fact is, bed rest is bad for backs.

Your muscles get stiff, your bones get weaker, you lose physical fitness, you get depressed, the pain feels worse, and it's harder to get going again.

You can start moderate activity even when your back is painful. Exercise makes you feel better by releasing natural chemicals that reduce the pain.

Some good exercises you can do even when your back is painful, include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Exercise biking
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Most other daily activities

Remember: the sooner you get active, the sooner your back pain will improve.

Return-to-work programs

The longer you stay off work due to a back injury or back pain, the less likely you are to return, so it's important to get back as soon as possible. Talk to your employer about your situation and discuss how you can modify any work activities that stress your back.

Return-to-work programs are based on the philosophy that many employees can safely perform productive and transitional work as part of their recovery process.

If you are off work due to a back injury or back pain you can benefit from a return-to-work program by:

  • Being able to perform meaningful work
  • Retaining your status within your company
  • Preserving a sense of attachment to your work place and co-workers
  • Maintaining body conditioning
  • Quickening the recovery process

Return-to-work tasks:

  • Are temporary work tasks
  • Are meaningful and productive
  • Are designed to help return an injured work to regular full-time duties in a safe and productive manner
  • Allow the injured worker to return to the job site for partial days, gradually working up to full-time hours
  • Offer graduated hours of transitional or regular duties
  • Can combine offsite treatment with transitional or regular duties

If you have an accepted WorkSafeBC claim, talk to your employer and WorkSafeBC case manager about a return-to-work program in your workplace. WorkSafeBC rehabilitation staff are available to monitor your progress and make recommendations to your case manager regarding your transition to full time hours, ensuring an effective transition. See Rehabilitation and Return to Work.

Making a WorkSafeBC claim

Back injuries sustained when you are working or caused by your job are eligible for compensation by WorkSafeBC (the Workers' Compensation Board). You must report these types of work-related back injuries to your employer, your doctor, and WorkSafeBC as soon as possible.

If your claim is accepted, WorkSafeBC may pay for medical services and supplies required to help you recover from your compensable injury. Some of these products or services must be pre-approved by your WorkSafeBC claim representative before WorkSafeBC will pay for them.

WorkSafeBC will usually only pay for treatment from one of these professionals at a time.

Examples of medical services and supplies:

  • Treatment by a chiropractor, naturopath, doctor or specialist or treatment by a physical therapist or massage therapist when referred by a doctor
  • Hospital, laboratory, and x-ray services
  • Nursing care
  • Personal-care assistance
  • Prescription drugs related to the injury

If you use these services you should feel the effects immediately, and it is not worth using these treatments for consecutive months.

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